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Cambodia's ruling party claims victory in one-sided election

July 23, 2023

Hun Sen, after almost 40 years in power, is set to win a landslide victory after banning opposition and stifling dissent. Many believe he will soon hand over power to his son, Hun Manet.

Prime Minister Hun Sen claps
After barring a main opposition group from running, Hun Sen looks set to continue his time in officeImage: Heng Sinith/AP Photo/picture alliance

Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CCP) declared victory in a general election on Sunday, in which it ran virtually unopposed.

"We've won in a landslide...but we can't calculate the number of seats yet," said Sok Eysan, CPP spokesman said. 

"The Cambodian people won't let the cheating groups destroy the country," Hun Sen said in an apparent reference to opposition groups.

Even before Sunday's poll the CCP was likely to hold on to all 125 seats in the lower house. The 70-year-old has ruled since 1985 and is the longest-serving leader in Asia.

The only serious opposition party was disqualified on a technicality and the other smaller parties may not have much chance of winning seats.

Hun Sen has suggested that, in a once-in-a-generation leadership transition, he will soon hand over the reins to his son — Hun Manet — during the upcoming five-year term.

The CCP's spokesperson said that it was "very clear" that Hun Manet had won a seat in the National Assembly on Sunday.

Over 9.7 million people are able to vote in Cambodia's seventh election since independence from France. Voter turnout at 6:00 p.m. local time (1100 UTC) stood at 84%.

Official results are expected within hours.

Cambodia holds sham elections

Camodia's election a 'farce' — opposition

Sam Rainsy, a leading opposition figure, told DW that he expected Cambodia's general election to be a "farce."

"It will be a farce, a sham election," Rainsy said.

 Rainsy urged voters to "spoil their ballots" in a bid to "show their support for the opposition."

"If the number of spoiled ballots is very large, it means that the Cambodian people reject the current regime and that they want to vote for the opposition, even though the opposition is not allowed to take part in this election," he said.

Rainsy has been living in exile in France. He claimed that he has received death threats from the Cambodian government.

"I have no means to go back to Cambodia," he said.

Cambodia to hold elections with few doubts over outcome

Who is Hun Manet?

Hun Manet, the 45-year-old eldest son of Sen, has a bachelor's degree from the US Military Academy, a master's degree from New York University and a Ph.D. from Bristol University in Britain.

Currently, he is the chief of Cambodia's army.

Cambodians do not foresee any immediate shift in policy when power is handed over to Manet. He is part of what is expected to be a broader generational change within the CPP.

Hun Manet gives a thumps up to the camera.
Hun Manet, son of Hun Sen, is currently the chief of the Cambodian armyImage: Heng Sinith/AP/dpa/picture alliance

"I don't think anyone expects Hun Sen to sort of disappear once Hun Manet is prime minister," said Astrid Noren-Nilsson, a Cambodia expert at Sweden's Lund University.

"I think they will probably be working closely together and I don't think that there is a big difference in their political outlook, including foreign policy," she said.

Suppression of opposition

The Candlelight Party (CP), the only serious opposition party, was disqualified on a technicality in May.

The move came after the CP performed better than expected in last year's local elections and won 22% of the popular vote.

Does Cambodia have a viable opposition?

There is not much hope for any of the 17 other small, poorly funded parties to win seats.

Election laws were changed as per Hun Sen's orders in June. Under the new rules, anyone who fails to vote in the upcoming polls will be barred from running for office — a move that will affect exiled rivals.

Stifling freedom of speech

Ahead of the election, freedom of speech has been heavily stifled. The 'Voice of Democracy,' one the last remaining independent news outlets, was shut down earlier this year.

As Hun Sen gears up for a landslide victory, rights groups have widely criticized his methods.

Human Rights Watch said that the election "bears little resemblance to an actual democratic process."

Cambodia shuts down independent media outlet

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), an umbrella organization of almost 20 regional NGOs, said that the National Election Commission had shown a "clear bias" towards Sen's party.

The group in a joint statement criticized the "shrinking space" for civil society and the "deliberate targeting of human rights defenders."

"The constriction of civic space undermines the active participation of civil society in the electoral process without fear of reprisal," said the statement.

ns,sdi/ab,dj (AP, AFP, Reuters)